The Ole Ball Game

What happened to the home plate umpire's protective padding?

by Jim
(Phoenix, AZ)

Charlie Finley's Experiment With A  Rabbit Named Harvey, Pop Up Ball Machine, 1969

Charlie Finley's Experiment With A Rabbit Named Harvey, Pop Up Ball Machine, 1969

Jim asked: I remember the old B&W movies from the 1940s and 1950s, along with Norman Rockwell's painting, of the home plate umpire having a large, nearly heart-shaped, 3 or 4 inch thick, full torso protective pad.

What happened to that protection and why?

Rick answered: Jim, thank you for your question.

As you look through the images above, there certainly has been progression, one which has been for the better.

One of the major reasons for the evolution was to allow the umpires to become more mobile.

All the external equipment was bulky and hard to manage.

Those chest protectors, while pretty effective if hit directly, were not made to stay put and often would slip down on movement, putting the wearer at risk.

All umpire gear today is lighter, stronger and provides better protection, while all the time being located under their clothing. This location allows the umpire freedom to move around, without dragging a big bulky chest protector with him.

Home plate umpires sometimes sprint down the third base line to cover a call at third base. Calls out in front of the plate also require mobility to get into the proper position. Mobility has been a good thing for them.

At the present time, the one piece of equipment that lags behind the others is their mask.

Catchers have gone to the hockey style mask, and I believe they are, or already have, models for umpires.

A 98 MPH fastball, foul tipped back into those iron frame masks, can be a real bell ringer.

I have seen High School umpires have to leave a game due to taking a foul tip to the mask.

Much like the evolution of baseball gloves, bats and footwear, the game has made great strides.

Yours in baseball,


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